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What if North Korea Launches a Satellite?

December 12, 2019 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

Multiple reports are circulating in the news media that North Korea has tested a new, larger, and more capable rocket engine. There is growing concern that Pyongyang may be about to give the United States and the rest of the world an unwanted Christmas present by launching a long-range missile. U.S.-DPRK negotiations regarding Pyongyang’s nuclear program and related issues have stalled noticeably since the much-ballyhooed “photo-op” summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Demilitarized Zone in June. Kim may have decided that the launch of an ICBM into the central or eastern Pacific would prod Washington both into giving the bilateral negotiations higher priority and into making significant concessions.

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Such a move would inflame tensions throughout East Asia to an alarming extent, empowering hardliners in the United States and Japan who have opposed President Trump’s pursuit of a rapprochement with North Korea from the beginning. North Korean leaders must be aware of the underlying dangers if they conduct an overtly military missile test.  But what if Pyongyang chooses to use the new missile engine to launch a satellite into Earth orbit instead? It is not entirely clear how the United States and its East Asian allies would (or should) react to that development. 

North Korea apparently tried to achieve the goal once before—in 2012—although the launch failed. Pyongyang has made noticeable progress on its missile technology since then, and the leadership may be ready for another attempt. A satellite launch would create an acute policy dilemma for U.S. officials. Ostensibly, such a launch would be for peaceful, scientific purposes, and it would be a justifiable source of national pride for North Koreans. However, a missile capable of putting a satellite into orbit also would be able to strike a long-distance target with a nuclear warhead.

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Understandably, U.S leaders do not want the DPRK to possess such a capability, since it would bring portions of the continental United States (and perhaps the entire …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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